William was born as the youngest son to a business family in St. Louis. He attended the John Burroughs School in St. Louis where his first published essay, "Personal Magnetism," was published in the John Burroughs Review in 1929. He then attended The Los Alamos Ranch School in New Mexico, which was stressful for him and was soon expelled from Los Alamos after taking chloral hydrate in Santa Fe with a fellow student. He finished high school at Taylor School in St. Louis and, in 1932, left home to pursue an arts degree at Harvard University. He was introduced to the gay culture at Harvard.
According to According to Ted Morgan's Literary Outlaw, "His parents, upon his graduation, had decided to give him a monthly allowance of $200 out of their earnings from Cobblestone Gardens, a tidy sum in those days. It was enough to keep him going, and indeed it guaranteed his survival for the next twenty-five years, arriving with welcome regularity. The allowance was a ticket to freedom; it allowed him to live where he wanted to and to forgo employment. -Ted Morgan, Literary Outlaw. p.65. New York:Avon Books, 1988."
The original edition of Junkie credited to "William Lee" was Burroughs's first novel publication. ...